making a difference with social marketing
by Nedra Kline Weinreich

When the new director of the CDC, Dr. Thomas Frieden, took his position in early June, it was inevitable that he would make some changes -- perhaps even some big changes. I believe I speak for many social marketers in saying we were very hopeful that health marketing (the CDC's name for social marketing) would fare well in the new administration.

Unfortunately, I have just found out that the National Center for Health Marketing (NCHM) is slated to be eliminated. What this means exactly for the practice of health marketing within the CDC is unclear, but it bodes poorly for the field of social marketing overall.

On the heels of the NCHM's highly successful Third National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media (NCHCMM), which just brought together one thousand professionals who are using these tools to address disparate health issues from across the spectrum of the CDC's purview, this news raises a big question: What will be the future of the conference, which serves a different role in the US social marketing community from other professional events? This most recent conference, in mid-August, raised the profile of the CDC as an innovator and enabler of organizations and agencies across the country (and beyond) on the cutting edge of social marketing initiatives.

After the NCHM has made so much progress in advancing the field of social marketing and integrating these methods into public health practice, it would be a giant step backwards to lose this bastion of expertise and have its staff dispersed. We need only look at the UK's National Social Marketing Centre to see the approach getting the prominence within government that it deserves as a tool that works for prevention. The US needs to be a leader in social marketing, and this will knock us from that position.

While the fledgling social marketing association is not quite in position to address this issue as a unified voice for our field, those of us who care about social marketing should individually make our opinions known to Dr. Frieden to ensure that social marketing will continue to play a prominent role in the work of the CDC. I believe this is best achieved through a focal point of expertise like the NCHM that can implement best practices throughout the agency and host events like the NCHCMM conference. Barring that, I hope that Dr. Frieden somehow comes up with an even better alternative.

What are your ideas for how we can best address this issue as a field?
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Blogger Tammi said...
Nedra, can you point to where this news is from? And is this definite or merely under consideration? (Basically, help us readers understand if this is "threat level" or rumor.) It would be helpful to know what, if anything, has been planned for its replacement. For example, if the work will be decentralized such that each department has a mandate to engage in health marketing, perhaps this ain't so bad???

Please share more.

Blogger Nedra Weinreich said...
@Tammi,

My source is a trusted colleague at CDC who prefers not to be named, but is in a position to know the facts. Sounds like it's pretty much a done deal, with the NCHM functions realigning to other parts of CDC. Some will go back to the national centers, and some to a new, much smaller "Communications Office." So hopefully the health marketing work will continue, but it will be decentralized and with a much lower profile at CDC. The specific details have not yet been announced.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
This would be a terrible loss. I suspect it is to "undo" some of Dr. Gerberding's work of creating additional layers within CDC -- e.g. National Centers -- which were intended to prevent silos but felt like additional layers of resrouce-intensive bureacracy to the employees.

Blogger Nedra Weinreich said...
@Anon - That appears to be the case. I'm all for efficiency, but this seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Blogger Charlie Brown said...
This just seems like a bad joke when you look at the situation we are in with H1N1...not to mention Obesity and other health issues that benefit from conversational communication.

I wonder if this will cause NACCHO to rethink it's position as well...

Anonymous Caren Henderson said...
Just checked with my sources at CDC and it is true however the conference will continue.

Blogger Lisa Hoffman said...
This is truly devastating news. What does this mean for the future of the field of health marketing? Don't they realize effective health communication and marketing are critical to prevention? Perhaps we should start a petition to keep the center open.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I would sign that petition.

Anonymous Mark Marosits said...
Yet one more reason to accelerate the formation of a social marketing association as a vehicle to help unify our voice and centralize the abundant evidence and validation of what we do. In the short run-do not hesitate-contact Dr. Frieden, blog, tweet, re-tweet to demonstrate popular momentum in support of a prominent place for social marketing inside CDC and the rest of the public health infrastructure. This is one part of government well worth saving!

Anonymous Anonymous said...
If you really care, then be heard. Send an email to oic@cdc.gov or tfrieden@cdc.gov and tell them what you think and why.

Blogger Nedra Weinreich said...
Thank you all for your comments! Please do send an email to Dr. Frieden at the address listed in the comment above to strongly encourage him to keep health marketing as a priority, preferably with NCHM at the center of our Federal health marketing initiatives.

Anonymous Jim Mintz said...
Nedra I was dumbfounded by the news that the NCMM is being eliminated. If there was any time in our history where we need a marketing operation at the CDC, this is the time. Hopefully this is only a reorganization and the marketing group will reappear somewhere in the CDC infrastructure.

Nedra, I am almost speechless to hear that the NCMM lost. Technology is getting better and more accessible, but there is still so much work to be done in health marketing. What are they thinking? I too hope it pops up somewhere in another form. Please keep us updated.

Blogger GoodNewsBlogger said...
Nedra, as I said in my email, this is very unfortunate but we will spread the word to our peers regarding the new privately funded organization and hope that it will be viable and operational soon. Thanks for bringing this to the attention of our professional community.

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